Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mere Trumpery

George Washington was our first president. He was born into an affluent family, and inherited property and slaves after the deaths of his father, and later his older brother.  He became a surveyor at age 17. Thanks to his family connections, he was given the position of official surveyor of the newly created Culpepper County. Four years later, Washington began his military career, during the French and Indian War. In 1775 he was commissioned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. We all know how that turned out.

At the end of the war, Washington resigned his commission, rather than seize power as a dictator or king. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787. That year he was elected president, and served as the first US president until March of 1797.

John Adams was our second president. He was born to modest circumstances. His father was a Congregationalist deacon, farmer, cordwainer, and a lieutenant in the militia. (A cordwainer is a shoemaker who makes shoes from new leather.)
As the eldest son he was expected to receive a formal education, which he did through schools and tutors. At age 16, John Adams entered Harvard College. After graduating, he taught school for a few years, and then decided to become a lawyer. He consciously chose not to become a member of the clergy. Adams wanted to become a great man, and once referred to his own hunger for fame as “mere trumpery.”  There’s a term likely to make a comeback.

Thomas Jefferson became the third US president. Jefferson was born to an affluent family. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, and practiced law. He was also an architect, president of the American Philosophical Society, spoke at least 6 languages fluently, and was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson served as the governor of Virginia, a member of Congress, a trade minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President.

Franklin Pierce was the 14th US president. Pierce was born into a relatively affluent and political family in Hillsborough, NH. His father was a farmer, tavern keeper, and state legislator. After graduating from Bowdoin, he got involved with state politics. Pierce served 6 terms as the town moderator in Hillsborough. He served as a state representative, and became Speaker. Pierce was also elected to the US House, the US Senate, and 10 years after leaving office he was elected president. The only president to come from NH, Franklin Pierce is widely regarded as one of our most lackluster presidents.

Warren G. Harding was our 29th president. He was born to a doctor and a midwife in Ohio. His father (the doctor) bought a newspaper, and so Harding began learning the newspaper business at age 11. After graduating from college, he bought a failing newspaper that he was eventually able to turn around. It was during this time that he began to get involved with politics. Harding was elected to the state senate, and began to enjoy the patronage and graft that came with the office. He served one term as lieutenant governor. His term was described thusly, “he had little to do, and he did it very well.”

Harding went on to become a US Senator, and eventually president. He died halfway through his term. He was quite popular at the time of his death, and was mourned by the nation. It was after his death that a number of scandals came to light that sullied his posthumous reputation, notably the Teapot Dome scandal. He was beloved when he died, but is now regarded as one of our worst presidents.

George W. Bush was our 43rd president. He was born into a family of great wealth and political connection. George attended the best schools, got middlin’ grades, and went on to have a life that was free of accomplishment. He failed at business, but succeeded wildly at using his family money and influence to become the governor of Texas, and eventually president. He was appointed president by the Supreme Court, after a contentious election where he received fewer popular votes than his opponent. His Wikipedia page lists “golf and smoking cigars” as hobbies. Bush was not an accomplished man. He showed no sign of intellectual curiosity during his tenure in the White House. He may be the happiest person in the nation that Trump was elected, since he’s not likely to maintain his position as the worst president ever.

Our newly elected president, who received fewer popular votes than his opponent, is Donald Trump. He was born into wealth. Young Trump went to military school, but never served in the military. He received 4 student deferments while he was at Wharton, which enabled him to avoid going to Vietnam. Eventually he was given a medical deferment for heel spurs. Trump began his real estate career in his father’s company, which eventually became his. There have been decades of deals, big gaudy buildings with his name smeared all over them, casinos, six bankruptcies, and three wives. He’s considered to be a successful businessman, despite the many failures, bankruptcies, and refusal to pay workers. He has never been involved with any sort of public service. His “charity” is used as a slush fund to pay himself. He wanted to win. Now that he has, it’s clear that he’s spectacularly ill-prepared to govern.

Trump is a very successful salesman, who has sold us the belief that he’s a good businessman. He’s also a reality TV star, who lives in a tacky, gilded palace with his most recent wife who we haven’t seen much of since the tapes of Trump’s bus trip with Billy Bush on Access Hollywood were made public. Melania Trump, it seems, is not going to be moving to the White House. His daughter, however, will have an office there, and take on some First Lady duties.  The White House is open for business.

There is so much wrong with all of this that I don’t even know where to begin. Suffice it to say, that we began this nation with men who were accomplished and educated. We’ve settled for considerably less as the decades have gone on. It was once difficult to imagine that we would elect a B-movie actor and McCarthy fink, but we did. Our recent Electoral College choice makes Reagan look like Socrates.

We’ve gone from statesmen to a twitter troll. This may be the end of the Great American Experiment.

I wish you all Happy Holidays – see you in 2017

 This was published as an op-ed in the December 23 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 


tworavens said...

A skillfully written piece. One that many misguided individuals will unfortunately not read. We are now seeing the folly in "electing" a "businessman" whose only distinction is one of notoriety. The entire fiasco is declaring itself a mess that appears impossible to untangle. From the Trump name on thousands of buildings, to debt owed multiple banks local and international, the running of his many business ventures, the list is endless involving problems facing those overseeing this incoming train wreck. Diane Rehm in her outgoing radio show today voiced optimism and hope. I wish I could feel the same way. It is almost understandable to empathize with the passenger on the JetBlue who declared despair at seeing a Trump as a fellow passenger. The best thing that could happen, is for issues to pile up into such a yuuuuge mountain, that the landslide it produces forces Trump to the side to make way for someone else. Fat chance. Rather, I foresee a Berlusconi type administration. We won't have time for smug "I told you so's" because we'll all be far too preoccupied with trying to survive god knows what.

fp said...


Chaz Proulx said...

Perfect piece about the "Rise and Fall" of the American experiment. Maybe we'll survive this maybe not-- but the US and the world have so many "time sensitive" problems that I'm not very optimistic.